Falling into formulas

Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? (Gal. 3:3)

We can mechanize the system to grow churches these days. And we’re good at it. Let us be more humble to realize we still need the power of the Spirit to continue what is really Kingdom.

Let us surrender our pragmatics and practics to the leading of the Spirit. Let us fall to our knees and ask for the wind of the Spirit to blow again. Let us ask for fresh wind not because things are going bad… but because things are going well and we don’t want it to be US. 

It’s hard to be desperate for God in times of “success.” Break us, O God.

prayer mary


Good bye cruel world!

Today’s reading for MULTIPLY discipleship is Galatians 6.

And what comes up AGAIN? The cross. (It seems to be all over the New Testament… and very hard to avoid.) 1 Corinthians 1 on Sunday… Galatians 6 today… and the cross.

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Gal. 6:14)

Yesterday we read from Romans 12 and the idea there was transformed thinking. The pattern is too obvious. Therefore… let us ignore it.

Let us ignore the cross. Let us embrace the world. Let us not worry about the smile of our King and live only to be liked by our world.

It makes us feel better, anyway.

For a time.

But the only way of Kingdom life is through the cross. I need HIS way, not mine. HIS way is life. I somehow keep letting the enemy tell me otherwise. But today I must allow the work of the CROSS have its way in me.

Remember the poor

Paul writing in Galatians brings verification of his preaching by retelling the story of his visit to the apostles. The big issue, of course, was the gospel coming to the Gentiles, but the one piece of common theological ground they had to have from Paul was this:

They asked only that we would remember the poor, which was certainly something I was willing to do. (Gal. 2:10)

While there was a lot of theological mystery and potential disagreement, one of the main things the apostles needed to hear from Paul was that he was still going to teach Gentiles to care for the poor

Remember the margins. Remember the edges kicked to the curb and not having the resources to possibly “make it” in life. 

The city where I pastor has a tremendous clergy group. We meet monthly and our churches together hold a Good Friday service annually. It’s a great group. 

The real turn for us came several years ago. Every month we would meet and one particular pastor wanted to discuss our “distinctives.” He loved to talk about what was different in each of our denominations. It was okay to do, but after awhile it was irritating some pastors enough they didn’t bother coming as regularly as they used to. 

We finally went through a process of asking, “What can we do together in the name of Jesus?” 

When we had the discussions on what we could do together, interest picked back up. We have WIDE theological differences in our group. Yet, this is a group that truly loves each other because we want to see what Jesus is doing in the community and go to it. 

Consequently, what “revs our engine” the most is putting things together that reach out to the margins of our city: the poor, the elderly, the at risk youth. 

Remember the margins. 

It’s probably because you find Jesus there quite often. 


White Knuckle Christianity

Growing up in a conservative church was more about what you didn’t do rather than what you DID do. That’s just life. We all have things growing up we need to learn how to adjust. Those things may not need to be tossed overboard. They may just need to be readjusted.

But when you grow up worrying about the things you’re not supposed to do, it creates a bit of a paranoia. I grew up in the days of those end time movies: Thief in the Night, Distant Thunder, Prodigal Planet, etc. I did book reports in high school on such great theological treatises as The Late Great Planet Earth.

Those kinds of books and movies just basically left me paranoid. I was going to think a wrong thought, do a wrong thing, say the wrong word, and POOF! Jesus would come and I was on my way to hell. (And a 14-year-old BOY trying to control thoughts is like teaching a cat to sit.)

That is white-knuckle Christianity. It’s a roller coaster ride and you’re holding onto the crash bar in front of you so tight your knuckles go white. We live in fear of doing the wrong thing.

We are made for freedom. We are born for freedom. Not freedom for our own use. That’s just another form of slavery. Freedom in Christ. Freedom in the Kingdom.

Spiritual formation helps us to bring into our lives what TO do rather than what NOT to do. When we walk in disciplines of prayer, study, celebration, giving, etc., we are putting into our lives patterns of DOING rather than patterns of fearing what NOT to do.

This is being guided by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16). It’s not some mystical thing all the time. It’s practical. It is the Spirit taking us through a “holy boot camp” from time to time, teaching what TO do.

We need Spirit-filled lives that are bent on pursuit of the Beautiful Savior. When we are so caught up with that holy pursuit sin will no longer be attractive. That is the beauty of truly following Christ. That is the beauty of Spirit-filled living.

Use It or Lose It

I do the vast majority of my work on computer now, but I am a fan of pens. Good pens. I love fountain pens. If I take the time to journal, I try to have a fountain pen nearby.

The ink on my hands is just fun for me. My “better” fountain pen has a cartridge where I draw ink from a bottle into the chamber. I always have ink on my finger when I do that. It’s just fun for me. Fountain pens write so well if you have a good one. The ink really flows.

I also have a Lamy fountain pen that is cheaper, more durable so I can take it with me if I’m not wearing a suit (and I never wear a suit), and it writes well. Those have cartridges I just replace when ink runs out.

There is a downside to fountain pens. You have to keep using them. If I don’t consistently use my better pens, the nibs dry up. I have to take it apart, rinse it out, dry it out, make sure I have enough ink… and try again. It’s so much quicker to grab a cheap Bic and start writing, or just get on the computer.

But good things take time. Good things take maintenance. Good things take effort. Good things are often worth the effort. I enjoy the fountain pen. It is a joy to write and I can dream of actually being an author or something when I am writing.

We have a throwaway society. This computer I use today will eventually fritz out and it will not be worth the money to go get it fixed. I will toss it (responsibly, of course!) and go get another cheap computer.

Phone, TVs, cars… we just toss them aside. And it’s hindered us from seeing what is good, and working on what what is good.

We throw away relationships. We throw away commitments and experiences. We don’t know how to walk carefully through and work on something anymore.

The Kingdom of God is good. Yet, too many believers don’t work on it, or FOR the Kingdom. We think it’s just going to get laid on us and we’ll be on our merry way. When things take time, we get upset.

But the Kingdom is worth it. In a throwaway world, doing Kingdom work just doesn’t make sense. We even try to speed it up. We try to make the Kingdom more “fun,” or “cutting edge.” And when the Kingdom grinds at us or we find ourselves in a dry spot, we wonder what’s wrong. The thing is this: nothing may be wrong. It’s just the Kingdom at work. We’re just used to the fast-paced excitement.

You have to keep at it in the Kingdom. You have to keep using the gifts. You have to keep growing in the faith. Let your commitment to Kingdom drop off for awhile, and it’s like the nib on a fountain pen. It takes some effort to get things flowing again, but we don’t have “time” for that! So, we toss it aside and go find something else.

The Kingdom is different. It is truly a long slow walk in the same direction. And the walk, while plodding at times, is a beautiful adventure.

Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up. 10 So then, let’s work for the good of all whenever we have an opportunity, and especially for those in the household of faith. (Gal. 6:9-10, CEB)

Stay at it. Keep the nib clean and the ink flowing. You’ll find that joy.

Freedom in Christ and Freedom from Arrogance

As I read through 1-2 Corinthians and Galatians, I am constantly struck by our impulses. As humans, we seem to strive for being “one up” on someone else… anyone else. Even in the Church, Paul battled these kinds of attitudes. With the Corinthians, it was being “one up” with spiritual gifts… or being “one up” by being able to sin with the best of them and claim “freedom in Christ.” With the Galatians, it was sliding back into the arrogance of legalism and still thinking there was freedom in Christ.

Freedom in Christ is freedom from the patterns of this world. This is a tough battle for us as believers! We get so caught up in the world’s system. We take on value systems, philosophical systems, so much more… and we have a difficult time separating it all out.

We need tough reminders from time to time. We need the Holy Spirit working us over and getting to our motivations. We need the Word of God examining us!

13 You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love. 14 All the Law has been fulfilled in a single statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. 15 But if you bite and devour each other, be careful that you don’t get eaten up by each other! (Gal. 5:13-15, CEB)

There is not doubt we can be convinced of our faith… but we need not be arrogant about it.

Our Own Foolish Desires

Reading through Galatians this morning, there is no doubt Paul is dealing with something in this group that causes him to be incredibly harsh quickly. What he sees is a moving away from the gospel and he is impelled to warn them.

We have these tendencies. For the Galatians, it was a move back into the works of the Law. With any of us, it is a move back into the old system, whatever that may have been. Or, it is a move into something that seems to “make more sense.” Whatever the reason, Galatians serves as a guard.

Are we following our own desires… or the desires of the Kingdom? Whose allegiance are we pledging?

You irrational Galatians! Who put a spell on you? Jesus Christ was put on display as crucified before your eyes! I just want to know this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the Law or by believing what you heard? Are you so irrational? After you started with the Spirit, are you now finishing up with your own human effort? (Gal. 3:1-3, CEB)

The temptation to finish up what Christ has started in our own effort is huge. We step in and want to help Jesus out. We know better than the New Testament writers. We just can’t resist putting in our own two cents. There are all kinds of reasons.

We need to be purposeful in our walk with Christ. It is HIS Kingdom… not ours.

The New American “Christianity”, Part 2

The article regarding this new moralistic deism had an interesting paragraph:

All this means is that teenagers have been listening carefully. They have been observing their parents in the larger culture with diligence and insight. They understand just how little their parents really believe and just how much many of their churches and Christian institutions have accommodated themselves to the dominant culture. They sense the degree to which theological conviction has been sacrificed on the altar of individualism and a relativistic understanding of truth. They have learned from their elders that self-improvement is the one great moral imperative to which all are accountable, and they have observed the fact that the highest aspiration of those who shape this culture is to find happiness, security, and meaning in life.

Teens have learned well. We have taught them. Our example has been magnified and what we have done in moderation is now taken in excess by the next generation. Incredibly convicting paragraph, but HEY! not to worry, right? In the new theism, “It’s all good!”

This paragraph brings to mind another verse from Galatians:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. People reap what they sow. (Gal. 6:7, TNIV)